ALBANY, N.Y. -- The country may yet get its best test case for traffic tolls and other measures to curb urban gridlock and global warming. But before New York City got back in the running this week to launch a federal pilot project, state and city negotiators first had to break what many saw as the intractable gridlock in Albany politics.
In this, Mayor Michael Bloomberg was a catalyst.
Ninety-six hours of high pressure negotiations pushed by Governor Eliot Spitzer ended with Bloomberg landing state approval to pursue his vision for a cleaner, less congested Manhattan and a chance for $500 million in federal funding.
In the process, the Republican-turned-independent helped bring together disparate allies -- Senate Republican leader Joseph Bruno and the Democratic governor. During weeks of unprecedented name calling and power plays, the two state leaders refused to negotiate or meet, except on their own terms.
Although Bruno and Spitzer supported the mayor's "congestion pricing" concept, negotiations with the skeptical Assembly Democrats never started while Bruno was calling Spitzer a spoiled brat and Spitzer said Bruno chose summer vacation over doing the people's business.
Calls for investigations of each other's use of state helicopters, Bruno's claim that Spitzer used state police to spy on him, even Spitzer's bouncing of a Bruno staffer from a news conference, were part of feuding that became so heated it raised eyebrows beyond New York.
"Now, now boys," tsked the headline in The Economist of London. "Even by Albany's standards, their recent feuding has caused new highs, or rather new lows, of dysfunction."
Although an unofficial truce was floated more than a week ago, no one was buying it after past pledges blew up. Days later, political hit man Roger Stone, the GOP consultant to presidents including Ronald Reagan, was brought in by Bruno to give his narrow majority a pep talk.
But the acrimony eased late this week as negotiations over the Manhattan traffic plan intensified in Spitzer's private office, all sides said. The talks also resulted in agreement on campaign finance reform -- a measure Spitzer had most insisted on, but which Bruno had specifically insisted was irrelevant.
Bruno later said the billionaire mayor, a big campaign contributor, had "been very influential and very successful" in the negotiations.
In the end, everyone claimed they won.